“Well,” Peyton said when they arrived at the way station, “this is a hell of a mess, isn’t it?”

The house and barn were both ablaze, as was part of the surrounding prairie. Only glowing timbers were left of the barn, and skeletons inside were all that was left of the horses that Cobb had hoped for. “They didn’t even steal them,” he said.

“Of course not. This wasn’t about stealing anything, Mr. Tyler. It was about revenge.”

They found Alabaster, the station master, dead in his own front yard. He was still clutching a double-barreled shotgun with one loaded chamber, but he’d been cut down by a hail of bullets before he could empty it. His head had been severed and was on a pike out front, a grim sort of memorial.

“Killed him with cartridges,” Peyton said with a low whistle. “Bullets are hard to come by for wild folk most of the time. You know they had their hearts in it.”

There was no sign of the stablemucker, no bones or anything else. Cobb half-heartedly called her name, but there was no answer. “Must’ve got away, or got herself taken,” he said.

“Girl was a slippery one, I’ll give her that,” Peyton agreed.

The only other thing they found was the remains of two wild folk. An orc and an an elf each, to judge by what was left of them. Not that there was much of that, mind: one of them had been nearly sawn in half by some kind of massive jagged blade, while the other had been immolated in a fire so fierce that the dirt around her body was glassed.

“They never are afraid to use their magicks,” Peyton said. “Looks like they were rather free with them.”

Nothing of value remained at the way station; even the windpump had been wrecked. More sipping from muddy streams was in the cards, as it was an impressive walk to Smokewood. Both Cobb and Peyton were quiet for some time as the ruins sank below the hills.

“Have to admit,” Peyton said. “I was more right than I knew when I asked about how many people had died for your revenge.”

“Shut your mouth,” Cobb said, albeit weakly.

“You can only threaten to shoot old Peyton Grosh so many times before it stops being much of anything to lose sleep over,” said the orc. “And compared to what them wild folk did to old Alabaster, well, maybe that’d be a mercy.”

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